Pubdate: Fri, 14 May 2004
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2004 Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Marijuana Found Among Tomatoes

FRESNO, Calif. - On the edge of suburbia, the magnificent gardens of 
Southeast Asian refugees rise and fall.

On leased ground no bigger than five or 10 acres - small potatoes to the 
giant industrial growers - the refugees plant their own long-shot dreams: 
Chinese bitter melon, Chinese broccoli, Thai chili, ong choy, su choy, 
daikon and kohlrabi.

The best strawberries in the San Joaquin Valley are grown by a tribe of 
CIA-trained commandos who fled the highlands of Laos after the Vietnam War. 
Thai eggplant, slightly spicier than its Armenian cousin, is the specialty 
of the lowland Lao.

This spring, anticipating another harvest of low prices in the nation's 
most productive farm belt, some Southeast Asian niche farmers are planting 
a new cash crop under the brutal sun: marijuana.

In the past month, Fresno County investigators have busted half a dozen 
marijuana fields hidden by borders of cherry tomatoes. A more ideal 
camouflage crop - the tomato and the pot plant have similar leaves - would 
be hard to find.

Nearly 40,000 squat but prolific bushes have been yanked out and set 
ablaze, an illicit harvest worth $40 million on the streets - more than 
last year's value for cherries or Valencia oranges or sweet corn in Fresno 

Five lowland Lao refugees have been arrested and charged with cultivating 
marijuana for sale. The record heat of spring has not only pushed the 
vineyards and fruit orchards several weeks ahead of their growing cycles, 
but also matured the marijuana in half the time.

As sheriff's deputies canvass the truck farms of Fresno County, Southeast 
Asian leaders are complaining that their community is being unfairly 
singled out. In one news release, the Sheriff's Department advised 
landowners leasing property to Southeast Asian farmers to inspect the rows 
for cannabis.

The refugees counter that the vast majority of their truck farms are clean 
and that authorities, by focusing on Southeast Asian farms, are making it 
difficult for future refugees to lease farmland.
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